‘Do you really want to hear that my dog’s had diarrhoea or I’m late for a meeting?’ – Deliciously Ella on Instagram ‘filter’



Ella and Mathew Mills got married last summer on the island of Mustique

It’s a Monday morning, and as I walk into the Soho office of Deliciously Ella, although it’s full of 20-somethings tapping away at their computers, it seems oddly silent. ‘I think they’re annoyed with me,’ Ella Mills, the company’s founder, whispers conspiratorially. ‘I made them all move desks, as it’s good to know what other departments do, and now they’re not speaking.’

Clear-skinned, glossy haired, with neatly manicured hands, as the poster girl for the plant-based healthy eating movement (along with Madeleine Shaw, Amelia Freer and the Hemsley sisters) it’s easy to forget how far the 27-year-old has come.

‘If you’d said to me five years ago that I’d be here talking to you, having all these people here, having this big office – I’d say, not in a million years,’ she tells me.

Since creating her Deliciously Ella blog in 2012, she’s written four bestselling cookbooks (including the fastest-selling debut cookbook of all time), amassed 1.3m followers on Instagram, established a deli, and with the strategic direction of her CEO and husband Matt, developed a lifestyle brand whose 14 products (its best seller is still the first one, the energy ball) are stocked in 6,000 stores.

As she launches her fifth cookbook, The Plant-Based Cookbook (like all her books its recipes are meat-, dairy- and refined-sugar- free), when she looks back, does she think she underestimated the power of the brand?

‘Oh my God, 100 per cent,’ she says. ‘I was so young when I started. I’d been really sick for a few years before. I hadn’t had a real job and then Deliciously Ella exploded, and suddenly I was interviewing people, asking “Are you nice? Do you like to cook?” You know these are NOT interview questions!’ she laughs.

The daughter of Camilla Sainsbury, the supermarket heiress and Shaun Woodward, the former Northern Ireland secretary, her wealthy background and English-rose looks (she was briefly signed to Models 1) combined with her effortlessly upbeat tone and lack of dietetic training have made her an easy target – particularly during the backlash surrounding ‘clean eating’.

‘It’s frustrating when people say stuff that’s just not true,’ she says. ‘If you read our books you don’t see clean eating on anything we’ve ever done. Do you know what we do or who we are? Talk to me first then hate me. Rather than hate me then meet me,’ she says.

Featuring favourite recipes from the deli, supper clubs and pop-ups, The Plant-Based Cookbook is her most personal to date. Today, in the Deliciously Ella company kitchen, she’s cooking me one of the deli’s most popular breakfast dishes – corn fritters with smoky beans and avocado. And although not wearing the most practical clothes for cooking – a grey cashmere top and a pink silk Sies Marjan skirt – she exudes an uncanny air of calm, punctuated by infectious laughter.

‘You see the ingredients for the beans – a tin of kidney beans, a tin of tomatoes, onion, garlic,’ she says, ‘you can get these at any supermarket, they are not expensive. We don’t use fancy ingredients like greens powder any more,’ she adds, admitting that initially she was seduced by the superfoods trend that exploded in tandem with her blog.

To get a sense of the Deliciously Ella brand, you only need to step into her Mayfair deli. Carole King plays in the background, and huge jugs of meadow flowers decorate the communal table where girls in cut-off shorts sit posting Instagram updates and reading books on ‘how to create your own business’. Although Ella says her fans are more interested in meeting Austin, the couple’s spaniel, who has 22k followers on his own, very funny, Instagram feed written by Matt, than meeting her.

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Social media is the one area that Ella is not prepared to delegate. ‘I do our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I reply to all our direct messages, which can be a couple of hundred a day,’ she says. ‘A lot of people tell me that I’m insane.’

Does she worry about fuelling young girls’ inadequacies, with the sometimes shiny vision of her life viewed through an Instagram filter?

‘I think that’s why it’s important to say, as much as possible, that social media is a highlights reel – it’s a place to come and get ideas and inspiration. I have good and bad days just like everyone else, but do you really want to hear that I missed the train and so I’m late for this meeting, that I was stressed because a delivery hasn’t come in? Do you really want to hear that my dog’s had diarrhoea on my carpet?’ she says, her voice rising. ‘I don’t think so.’

Shortly after Tessa Jowell’s funeral in May, Ella went with her husband’s family to Plockton, a Highlands village that Tessa loved and used to visit every year with her girlfriends. ‘Matt and his sister had never been before, so it was a kind of pilgrimage,’ Ella says.

But soon after she posted a photo of her and Matt jumping into the sea in just their pants, on her Instagram feed, some of her followers posted negative comments.

‘Someone was like “your bum’s out” and I was like, I know! It was a moment of freeness – and I would say it was still tasteful. But I’ve realised that you can’t make everyone happy.’

When Ella’s mother-in-law Tessa Jowell was diagnosed with cancer and died from the illness a year later, it wasn’t the first time that Ella had to deal with a very personal matter in the public eye.

In December 2015, her parents announced they were divorcing after 28 years of marriage and that her father Shaun had started a relationship with another man. When I ask if she was surprised, she says, ‘Yes and no. It was very challenging to deal with. And I definitely felt,’ she pauses, ‘not guilty, but I had moments where I felt, “Gosh, people want to know what I think because I’ve got some kind of public profile, and I don’t want to make it worse for my siblings.”’

Ella grew up with her older brother Thomas and younger sisters Olivia and Katherine at Sarsden House, the family’s Oxfordshire mansion. After boarding at public school, she was in her second year of studying history of art at St Andrew’s university when she was struck down by postural tachycardia syndrome [PoTS] a debilitating illness that creates an abnormal increase in heart rate. It left her physically exhausted, unable to get out of bed.

Where others were sceptical about her illness, suggesting it was psychosomatic, her mother, whom she is still very close to, remained resolute. ‘I’d been put on all these drugs that just weren’t working, and I would call her in hysterics every day,’ she says. ‘But she never gave up on trying to find out what it was.’

Somehow Ella managed to complete her degree, despite the psychological impact of her illness. ‘I didn’t have any friends and I sank into a bad hole of depression for the best part of a year. I realised how difficult that was for my mum when she said you’re only as happy as your least happy child – and I was really unhappy. I feel very bad about it now but she was the one person that I always felt that I could talk to, and I still do.’

Then, after reading about the success of the fruit and vegetable diet of wellness guru Kris Carr, who has been living with cancer for over a decade, Ella became vegan and cut out sugar, dairy and gluten. Slowly her energy returned and two years later she was able to stop taking her medication.

It was her mother who weaned her off a diet of cereal, gummy bears and takeaways, and taught her to cook (‘just simple things like pasta sauces, soups and curries’) – and today Camilla and Ella’s younger sister are now vegetarian. ‘I’ve had times when I’ve been too busy or I haven’t slept properly and quite a lot of the symptoms have come back, so I’m very conscientious,’ says Ella.

Her husband Matt, who is seven years older, is obviously a huge source of stability for her, and the couple, who are just back from a holiday in Turks and Caicos, spend 95 per cent of their time together (which even she admits is ‘a little bit ridiculous’). In her downtime she tries to catch up on Billions, Homeland and Keeping Up With the Kardashians (which she has a weak spot for) – or go on one of their regular shopping trips to Bicester Village in Oxfordshire.

The couple met in February 2015, after Matt, whose background is in finance and business development, got in touch with her dad about working with Ella.

‘It was so creepy,’ she says, laughing. ‘Dad sent me a picture of him and said, “This guy’s amazing. You’ve got to meet him. He’s brilliant and really handsome too.” We met technically for work, and then we went out and that was it. Four months later we were engaged, had a dog and were working together. Everyone was like, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”’ she laughs.

Ella’s day starts with an early morning hour-long yoga class (she’s training to be a yoga teacher), before walking with Matt and Austin, from their home near Hyde Park, to the office – where she’s now the boss of 43 staff. Until recently, she admits she was working a seven-day week.

Despite a challenging last 12 months – she made the decision to close two of her three delis, saying, ‘It became clear that the scaleable part of the business was the product side’ – Deliciously Ella tripled its turnover last year and will double it again this year.

Now she is gearing up for the next chapter in the Deliciously Ella journey – a weekly podcast, and the launch of a frozen-food line (including its yellow Thai curry and five bean chilli). She recently hired Dan Barrett, the former head of innovation at Innocent to be MD of the product division of the company, and wants to change the image of frozen food: ‘There’s no one making it without preservatives, additives, or added sugar,’ she says. ‘It’s proper, home-made food and feels quite innovative, quite new and quite different.

‘We want to make plant-based food easily accessible, and five-a-day something that’s appealing. We want to grow – and to be the biggest natural food company in the UK.’ This hard-working, Kardashian-loving 27-year-old seems invincible.

‘The Plant-Based Cookbook’ by Ella Mills is published by Yellow Kite.

Online Editors

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